Image Credits: Kukuruz Quartett © Kukuruz Quartett.
January 29, 2019
Julius Eastman Piano Interpretations
An ensemble consisting of four pianos is as unusual as it is intriguing. We interviewed the Kukuruz Quartett and talked about their Julius Eastman Piano Interpretations album.
> Ivano Rossato
How did the Kukuruz Quartett form?
The Kukuruz Quartet was founded in 2014 in a corn field. "Kukuruz" means corn in several languages and the Swiss-German expression "Mais machen" (literally to make corn) means to stir up mischief. We first came together in production with musician and theatre director Ruedi Häusermann at the Zurich Schauspielhaus where we were performing on four so-called "well-prepared one-hand pianos". We had spent several long sessions exploring different preparations and constructions. From the outset, our group has been engaged with classical music, jazz, and improvisation.
How was the Julius Eastman Piano Interpretations project born?
In the same year the Kukuruz Quartet was founded, we started studying Julius Eastman and his musical work before anyone really knew who he was. Only recently has there been an increase of interest in Julius Eastman. We went on a tour through Switzerland, Germany and Holland in 2015 where we performed not only in concert halls but also in clubs, bars, and breweries. In 2017, we performed Eastman's "Evil Nigger", "Gay Guerrilla", "Buddha", and "Fugue no. 7" at Documenta 14 in Athens and presented our program at the Schlosserei Nenniger as part of the unerhört! Festival. The recording of our CD then followed in November 2017 in the main hall of the historic Radiostudio Zürich.
What approach did you have in the interpretations and arrangement of the songs on the album?
The Kukuruz Quartet sees itself as a band that studies and refines music together, works with classically notated music as well as with jazz harmonics and improvisation, and discovers new soundscapes during long phases of rehearsing and tinkering. This kind of creative work is necessary particularly because there is almost no conventional repertoire for the unusual formation of four pianos. Currently, we are probably the only quartet to take Eastman's music seriously in its raw savagery and drug-driven transgression. We refuse to play it as "easy listening" on four brilliant grand pianos in a temple of high culture. Last summer, we went on an extensive CD release tour through Swiss prisons, hospitals, train stations, bars, and banks. Our aim was to make Eastman's music accessible to a very broad range of people. We play Eastman's "art brut" compositions live on our run-down pianos which have been through a lot. Their battered resonant bodies offer enough resistance to present this music with its repetitive rage and towering sound agglomerations, in its entire painful beauty.
What is the biggest challenge in an ensemble made up of 4 pianos?
Pianists are usually loners and have a special function even in the context of chamber music. It is a new challenge to form a sound body out of four pianos; to not only play at the same time but also to really together. Because we organize our own concert series and transport our four pianos ourselves, we have to solve various kinds of organizational and logistical problems together. Over the years, we have become a very tight-knit group.
What are the future plans for the Kukuruz Quartett?
The Kukuruz Quartet will continue to perform Julius Eastman's music. Next year we’ll be in Providence, New York, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. A dance theater production with director Boris Nikitin, for which Eastman's music will build an essential foundation, is planned for 2020. We are also constantly searching for new music, we award commissions to composers, and we maintain long-term collaborations with sound artists and media artists.
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